Bach and Handel

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

On a new edition of Sir Hubert Parry’s book ‘Bach: the Story of the development of a great personality’

I am very glad to see that Sir Hubert Parry’s great book on Bach: the Story of the development of a great personality, has reached a sixth edition. The distinction is well deserved, and it fulfils a prognostication made on the occasion of its first appearance in 19077. As a study of Bach’s music it is unique, and every time I take it up I am delighted at the way in which Parry in his best armchair manner discourses on all the multifarious works in succession, - works written at Weimar, Cöthen, and Leipzig. Parry takes the young and earnest student into a land where all who delve may find riches abundantly. He was no historian, but his almost boundless knowledge brought forth a succession of happy allusions. With a quiet humour carrying a deep philosophical outlook, Parry shed a light on places left dark by others.

Handel would not have remained docile under such cramping conditions. But Bach’s outlook was primarily domestic, and his happiness lay in the domestic circle rather than outside it; for which reason he was always composing. Bach’s music is deeply rooted in his family: and we may reasonably assume that, but for his happy heath, he would not have composed so much, and perhaps not at all. Performances were a remote consideration, and such as he heard of his own works could not have inspired him. These and similar dissertations of Parry continue like a loadstone to attract the attention of each successive generation of Bach students, and those who revere his memory will be glad to hear of the success of his book. Parry had a very discreet and kindly manner, as all who knew him will say. I was unfortunate never to have met him, but seemingly in response to some references I had made to his music elsewhere8, he sent me a copy of Bach when it was first published.

  1. Probably by HB; see next note ↩︎

  2. Presumably in his early reviews for The Musical World; I presume that he reviewed the book after Parry sent it to him, and that the ‘prognostication’ which he mentions was made on that occasion. It appears to be a fact that Parry and Brian never met, though Brian was instrumental in securing performances of Parry’s music in the Midlands, and they corresponded when Brian was in London in 1914. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, April 1934, pp. 590–591